893.841 Surtax/14: Telegram

The Minister in China (MacMurray) to the Secretary of State


774. Referring to Legation’s telegrams 771, July 29, and 773, July 29, repeating telegrams from Shanghai of July 28, 6 p.m., and July 27, 4 p.m., respectively.

The Shanghai consular body recommendations set forth in my telegram 773 were considered this morning by the interested Ministers. In regard to the question of holding the Maritime Customs Administration to a responsibility for clearing ships and cargo upon the tender of dues and duties as prescribed by treaties, the recommendations of American shipping interests as referred to the Department in my telegram 771 were also laid before the interested Ministers by me. All of them shared the opinion (to which I myself adhere strongly) that any attempt to hold the Customs Administration responsible would result in the breaking up of the Customs Administration and thus would defeat our own purposes by depriving foreign interests of the only element of system and continuity in the levy of taxes on trade and shipping.
In discussing the fourth and fifth paragraphs of the telegram from Shanghai of July 27 it was disclosed that the British are prepared to take action upon this recommendation of the consuls; the French are prepared to recommend such action if practicable in expectation of its approval; the Italians are prepared to act in concert with the predominant majority; the Japanese propose in the first instance to have a parley with the Nanking authorities while at the same time reserving the possibility of drastic action if it is necessary; other nationalities have either approved the recommendation outright or have expressed their willingness to follow the majority. I declared that I did not interpret my present general instructions as giving me authority to participate in the recommended action but [Page 444] that if that was the sense of the meeting and the Shanghai consular body was to be asked for additional information as to the practicability of certain details of its recommendation in regard to consular collection of duties and in regard to naval protection, we should await such definite instructions in this connection as the Japanese Chargé d’Affaires and I might receive.
Although my instructions to date apparently indicate that our Government has no intention of authorizing the use of naval force for preventing or for restraining force used by Chinese local authorities in order to exact illegal charges upon American trade or shipping, it is my feeling that I should take advantage of the opportunity available to obtain instructions from you on this particular case rather than apply my understanding of your views, on my own responsibility, to a set of circumstances under which our refraining from positive action would from that time on forfeit definitely all practical benefits from the provisions of our treaties in this regard. However, once the Nanking regime has established successfully a levy of tonnage or customs surtaxes in defiance of the treaties, not even a speedy disintegration of that particular regime could prevent adoption of the same or of more far-reaching and arbitrary exactions by its successors in control at Shanghai and by all factions elsewhere in China. Thenceforth trade and shipping would be conducted only upon sufferance of any local authorities who might happen at the particular moment to be in physical control of a certain port and interested only in obtaining funds for purposes of continued factional strife. I perceive no alternative to the recommendation of the Shanghai consuls other than an irretrievable and complete abandonment of the treaty safeguards which alone make possible a commerce with the Chinese people in spite of the arbitrary extortions of the various local military leaders. I invite your attention very earnestly to the finality of the results which would follow negative action on our part in facing the present effort to invalidate the treaties.
Above is repeated to Shanghai.